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Adventures in Ancestry Part 2 : My Witch Executing Great Uncle

While I was climbing up through the family tree I found that a lot of my Dad’s ancestors were from England. Wiltshire, Suffolk, London, really all over the place in England. No signs of Native American ancestors despite all the things that I was told while I was growing up (at least not so far and I’m back into the early 1500s).

Along the way eventually, you’re going to get to the point where your ancestors find their way to America.


They had to get here somehow…

I don’t know if this is how they got here…but maybe?

With all of these really interesting people that I found on my Dad’s side that a lot of my family came from England and settled in Boston and Salem, MA! That goes back 11 or so generations which, to me, makes me feel like my love of the whole Boston area is literally in my DNA.

A few of those people that MAY have come over to the New World from England on the Mayflower. It’s a bit confusing and I thought I had it all figured out but then a date came up that made me question this info, so I’m still trying to sort it out. But it’s possible that my 11th great grandfather was Captin Christopher Martin, one of the original captains of the Mayflower, and one of the signatories of the Mayflower Compact.

I’m just a little bit confused about his daughter who is my 10th great-grandmother. Everything that I find about Ann(e) Gillam says her maiden name is likely Martin and that Captain Martin is her father. But nowhere can I find a birth record for her and her birth year was one year after Captain Martin married a woman named Mary (sometimes listed as Marie)  Prower. But there is no record of Mary having ever had a daughter named Ann.

So I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure that out.


Even if I don’t have relatives that were on the Mayflower, I have something else. This is the bigger thing I found that was a little bit of a surprise (OK a lot of a surprise).


Meet your uncle, the monster…

My 9th great uncle was Reverend Nicholas Noyes, Jr. He was the official minister presiding over the Salem Witch Trials.

Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of this douchenozzle to share. All the ones that I found that were attributed to being him may or may not be real. So instead, enjoy this meme and pictures of mine from both my visits to and time living in the Salem, MA area.



Nicholas Noyes Jr. came from a long line of reverends and ministers. He was born and raised in the Essex County area. He graduated from Harvard University in 1667 and then went on to be a preacher in Haddam, CT for 13 years. In 1683 Nicholas moved back to the Essex area and made his home in Salem, where he spent the rest of his life. In November of 1683, Nicholas was ordained as the assistant minister of the First Church of Salem in Salem, MA.

When the accusations of witchcraft began Nicholas was quite happy to add fuel to the fire in the village. During the trials, he served as a council to the judges lending his “spiritual advice” regarding those accused. Nicholas was very vocal speaking out against anyone accused and was happy to persecute anyone that was brought before the court.

During Martha Corey’s examination before the court on March 21, 1692, his remarks included “I believe it is apparent she practiseth Witchcraft in the congregation.” Despite having no evidence his words against Martha, and anyone else he spoke up against, would be taken with a great amount of consideration.

As the official minister for the trials, Nicholas presided over the hangings. Multiple people would be hanged on the same day and at the same time. Before the convicted would be hanged, Nicholas would deliver remarks that would both persecute those before him while also asking them one final time if they were willing to confess their involvement in witchcraft in order to spare their lives.

One particular instance of this is actually quite well know and involves the execution of Sarah Good. On July 19, 1692, prior to her hanging Reverend Noyes asked her if she was ready to confess that she was a witch. Sarah’s famous final words were said directly to him.


“You are a liar! I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink.”


Sarah, who was 39 at the time and had given birth while in jail during the trials, was hanged that day along with Elizabeth Howe, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, and Sarah Wildes. Reverend Noyes would also officiate the final hangings in September of that year. It’s said that he turned toward the suspended bodies of the victims and said, “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there.”



My uncle was a real fucking winner…

To add salt to the wounds, Reverend Noyes also excommunicated Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey, who was pressed (aka crushed) to death in September of 1692 while being tortured in order to get a confession (which never came). In 1712, a few years before Nicholas’s death, members of the First Church of Salem reversed these excommunications after being pressured by Samuel Nurse, Rebecca’s son, because it was now well known and accepted that none of the accused and executed were actually practicing witchcraft. The church documents have no mention of Reverend Noyes or his signature as part of the reversals.

There are conflicting reports about how Nicholas felt about the trials later in his life. There are accounts that he was regretful during these later years for his part in the trials and for what his actions did to the families of the accused. However, there are other accounts that he never spoke of it again, expressing neither regret or affirming his position at the time.

From the history of the First Church of Salem, which is now a Universalist church, Nicholas never expressed any remorse unlike Samuel Sewall, who served a magistrate during the trials, and John Higginson who was the senior minister of Salem during the trials, who both publically regretted their involvement.

Years later Sewall wrote of the trials that he saw Noyes as the “Malleus Haereticorum,” which translates to “hammer of heretics,” because of his harsh and unrelenting attitude toward those accused.

In November of 1692 Nicholas’s cousin, Sarah, who was the wife of Reverend John Hale, was accused of witchcraft by a young woman named Mary Herrick. Suddenly it seemed neither Reverends Noyes or Hale were fired up to drag someone into court. Instead of going after Sarah they began to question an accuser’s legitimacy for the first time. You might not be surprised that the wife of Reverend Hale was never brought to trial and it’s been suggested that her accusation was what brought the end of the trials.

It also probably helped Sarah that Mary not only accused her, a reverend’s wife, but also the ghost of Mary Eastey, who was executed earlier in September. Herrick said that Eastey’s ghost was also afflicting her with witchcraft. If you’re accusing a living, breathing person, that’s one thing. But when you accuse a spirit along with pointing a finger at the wife of one of the ministers involved in the trials, you might have a problem with people listening to and believing you.


But there is an upside to this story…

Remember when Sarah Good said to Reverend Noyes at her execution “…if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink”? Well on December 13, 1717, just 9 days away from his 70th birthday, Nicholas died of a sudden hemorrhage as a result of a throat condition and he did, in fact, have “blood to drink.” His cause of death was asphyxia as the result of choking on his own blood.

So maybe Sarah was a witch after all!

Just kidding. No, she wasn’t. None of them were. But it does have to make you think because you know she wasn’t the only one with a rope around her neck that day at the gallows wishing for Nicholas’s death.



While finding out that one of my great uncle’s was responsible for the death of women and men who were accused as witches and they were nothing of the sort is kind of horrible. But it also gives me a bit of an odd sense of justice of my own since all these hundreds of years later here I am, an actual witch, openly and freely practicing my magick and following my beliefs without the fear of being hanged.

It’s interesting how our family tree grows and evolves.


Speaking of trees…

It’s believed that Nicholas is buried in an unmarked grave at the Charter Street Cemetary, also known as The Burying Point in Salem. I have been in that cemetery so many times I’ve lost count. I have dozens of pictures from over the years of the cemetery at different times of the year. I’ve fucking done MAGICK in that cemetery!

I imagine that he may be buried in the far back, which is an area of the cemetery I often went to when I would go there just to enjoy the day and the weather because it’s such a pretty space. Who knows, I may have been sitting on his grave at some point casting spells!


The sign at the entrance of the Burying Point as it was in 2007…and the big tree in the cemetary. 


A picture of me from 1998 (snapped from inside a scrapbook) standing under the tree that I would spend a lot of time at over the years.


And in our final walk down ancestry lane…

In my third part of my ancestry stories, I’m going to talk about how some of this stuff I’ve learned has affected me. You can’t ever learn these kinds of things and not have it change something about how you view yourself, your family, and your world. So join me on Friday when I share these last pieces (so far) of my ancestry puzzle!



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